Monday, March 9, 2009
People often ask me if I think pets grieve when someone dies, either an animal companion or a person. I believe that they do, but like humans, the degree to which they show their grief varies. Our on call nurse told me about visiting a home after hours to check on a patient who was very close to death. One of the patient's two cats was down on the floor beside the bed, circling back and forth, vocalizing loudly while she examined the patient. After making sure the patient was comfortable, the nurse noticed the cat's distress. The family wasn't sure what to do, but the nurse picked the cat up and placed her on the foot of the patient's bed. The cat situated herself at the patient's feet and silently watched her owner for the next hour. She remained silent, watching intently, even as her owner died. When the funeral home came later to take the patient's body away, the cat began to cry again as they removed her from the bed. She walked over to one side of the room and sat, watching, again silent as her owner's body was taken away. When the nurse began to collect her things, she found the cat curled up in a chair in the living room, silent, but watchful. "That was my mother's favorite chair," her son said tearfully. "I guess Callie is remembering the times she sat there on her lap." He told the nurse that Callie was her "lapcat" and they spent many hours there together. Callie was 10 years old and had been with her owner her entire life. It was difficult to place a cat like her, but we managed to find a new home for her with a nurse aide.